Financial Times

Trade unions say labour rights violations not helping to retain
By Dilshani Samaraweera

A number of leading trade unions said on Thursday that the government and businesses were jeopardising the extension of the European Union's (EU) GSP+ by using the judiciary to suppress legitimate trade union rights.

The 11 trade unions said there is an increasing trend of both the government and businesses using the judiciary to stop trade unions from resorting to trade union action, despite signing International Labour Organisation conventions providing for such rights.

"A court injunction was obtained against trade union action in a dispute in the port. The same tactic was used by Sri Lanka Telecom. It was done again in a labour dispute in the railway, in the health sector and now in the education sector," said the President of the Health Services Trade Union Alliance, Saman Ratnapriya.

"We do not blame the courts. The courts are following the existing laws. What has happened is, after signing various international agreements, the government has not made the relevant changes to domestic laws, to accommodate the full requirements of these international conventions," said Mr Ratnapriya.

The unions said the GSP+ trade scheme was in "very real danger" of being lost to Sri Lanka, because of repeated allegations of human rights violations. Adding labour rights violations to the list, said the trade unions, will make it more difficult to retain the GSP+.

Sri Lanka needs to submit an application by the end of October, to retain the duty free export facility for another 3 years from 2009 to 2011. The trade union coalition included, the Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees Union, the Progress Union, the Health Services Trade Union Alliance, the All Ceylon Federation of Trade Unions, the Confederation of Public Sector Independent Trade Unions, the Ceylon Teachers' Union , the Union of Post and Telecommunication officers, the State Provincial and Public Management Assistants Services Union, the Suhada Varaya Sevaka Sangamaya, the Government Printers Union and the National Association for Trade Union Research and Education. Trade unions say the government needs to take quick action to indicate willingness to comply by core international labour rights.

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